“Tell Franck he’s an asshole,” barks David Pallash down the phone to me. “And that he is just tooooo French.”
I’ve just met Franck Collin in front of Meguro JR Station and we’re both late for a band rehearsal. But while Franck, as bass player, is an integral part of The Windermere May — the band that Englishman Dave fronts — I’m just here for the interview. So I escape the wrath of Dark Prince Pallash and very gently inform Franck that he is, apparently, “an asshole.”
Franck shrugs as French people do, but the fact he’s now virtually sprinting to the rehearsal space indicates that he knows a rumble with da boss awaits. And Dave is a big bloke. And The Windermere May is not just a hobby for him. Dave, in fact, acts like his whole life depends upon this band of his. And that can only be a good thing.
When Franck arrives at the studio, Dave picks up his guitar and bludgeons the bassist over the head until the Frenchman falls to the floor, bleeding profusely from major skull wounds. Well, actually Dave’s eyes commit these acts of significant violence in the two seconds it takes for him to admonish Franck for being late. But then Franck pacifies Dave by laying beers on the table.
“Franck is in charge of the drinks. That’s the real reason I’m pissed off,” says Dave. “It’s unbelievable, but not one of the convenience stores round here sells alcohol. You gotta walk up that hill to Meguro Station. It’s a joke.”
Dave writes and sings all the songs, which are intense and insanely passionate indie-rock numbers. There are many pop moments that wouldn’t be out of place on a Franz Ferdinand album (yes, Michael, you can dance to Windermere), but Windermere mainly takes you back to the day when The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen and Magazine were the coolest bands on the planet.
Minutes after drummer Mamiko Mochizuki and guitarist Masanobu Tsukui arrive (they had trouble finding a parking space) the band are in the rehearsal room warming up with a few Windermere classics. “Dayrise” is armed with potent angular riffing and is a masterpiece of mangled post-punk. Then its straight into “Worst I’ve Never Had,” their most Franz Ferdinand-sounding number. After these two warm-up tracks Dave calls across to me, “Now we’re gonna try some new songs.”
And here is when we see Prince Pallash in full regal mode. Franck makes a suggestion: “Maybe you can try that riff twice at the beginning?”
Dave: “I want it a little faster.”
Dave: “Franck, don’t pull back the sound like that.”
Dave: “We’ve got a hell of a lot of work to do on this one.”
“He’s bossy in the studio,” Mamiko once told me. But she wasn’t complaining, as she followed this up by saying that all great bands need a “bossy bitch” controlling stuff to keep the focus and drive things along; and as far as momentum goes The Windermere May is currently speeding.
They have almost finished recording their debut album, and, after a series of excellent shows at Shimokitazawa’s Garage, they’ve been handed a monthly spot as a headlining act at the venue. But the real big deal is that Garage has also rewarded them with a special showcase gig next Saturday. Rather than headline with a 25-minute set, they’ll be the only band — playing for about 80 minutes in between DJs spinning everything from electronica to punk rock.
After rehearsal, we go to a nearby Irish pub and as I forgot to prepare any questions I hastily jot a bunch down on scaps of paper, crumple them all up, and offer them randomly to each band member — lucky-dip style.
Franck is first and, appropriately enough, picks out the question “How can one be tooooo French?”
“It’s the look that screams I don’t give a sh*t about anything,” Dave butts in. “The face and shoulder gestures speak a thousand words. They sit in cafes looking casually depressed, puffing on cigs. I love it.”
“Franck goes at his own pace,” adds Mamiko. “Even when a show begins he’s still in the crowd drinking with his mates and shouting up to the stage, ‘Hey, guys. I’ll be there soon. Don’t panic.’ “
The second question puts the band on the spot. Errr, isn’t this the same Windermere May who, a few years back, were a post-rock band who liked nothing better than to sit on stools, strum big dramatic chords and sound like Mogwai?
“Yeh, we were post-rock before,” says Dave.
“But we didn’t have a drummer then,” adds Franck.
“And because of that we couldn’t really rock out,” explains Dave. “But we still have elements of post-rock in our music — the noise and the chords. I always go through phases — from loud, thrashy music to quiet music. But now we have a real physical edge to our performance. I hate indie bands that just stand there looking depressed, with no energy.”
All the band members have equally eclectic tastes. Dave has two solo side projects — electronica, and Pastels-like indie-rock for which he plays all the instruments. If you ask him politely, he’ll stack his songs on your iPod.
Franck also has an electronica side project as well as DJing sleazy electro, while Mamiko and Masanobu used to be in a major-label shoegazing band called Throughpass.
The most obvious question comes up next. Errr, why call yourself The Windermere May?
“I was sitting on the toilet where my mum has a lot of those little books and one had all these facts about toilets. Like when the first toilet came out, and this toilet was called The Improved Windermere,” says Dave. “I liked the name, but we collectively decided to drop the ‘Improved’ as it insinuated that we weren’t any good before.”
It’s certainly not a catchy name that Japanese can immediately get their heads round. And my next question links in with this. Two of the band are gaijin and that’s not gonna help them make a career out of this band in Japan, no matter how good the music is. And as we all know, there’s never been any room in the mainstream for quality indie-rock bands in Japan.
“I constantly think about that,” says Dave. “We are based here, but we are not thinking we will stay here.”
So why doesn’t he just go back to Britain? There’s a thriving indie-rock scene there right now.
“We all have lives in Japan — girlfriends, mates and stuff,” says Dave. “Some things are hard to just give up.”
Franck, how come you ended up in Japan?
“In Paris it stinks of piss and there’s dog yoghurt all over the pavement,” he says. “But, seriously, the great thing about Japan is we can practice easy. There’s a lot of studios here . . . and people’s minds here in the underground are open to many genres. It’s refreshing and a great place to grow as a musician. I was doing electronica solo stuff here and now I’m in this crazy rock band.”
“There’s never been a really good band from Japan with foreigners in it,” says Dave. “I’m sick of hearing of bands saying they are big in Japan, but none of the members actually live here.”
Mamiko pulls out the next question. “Is Dave a dominatrix?” she reads off the piece of paper.
“I don’t think I am and you guys aren’t gonna say anything now so shut up!” shouts Dave, and everyone bursts into laughter.
The barman comes over and announces it’s last orders for the drinks so we all order two pints each. I ask Dave if he’s nervous about the upcoming show.
“Yeah, a little bit. It’s our biggest ever,” he says. “This cable TV channel is filming it and I’ve got new shoes and maybe I’ll have new trousers. But, most important of all, I’ll be wearing silk underwear that changes color with the temperature. And it’s gonna be pretty hot. And I want people invading the stage, doing whatever they want to do. Invade our space! Rock ‘n’ roll! Have fun! Those are my final three commands.”
Now, if that’s not a call to party then I don’t know what is.
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